An up and coming tourist hotspot, Bali was put on the map with Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 book “Eat, Pray, Love,” and even moreso with the 2010 film starring Julia Roberts. Tourism in Bali has skyrocketed since their release, and the development of upscale spas, resorts, and shopping centers is accelerating at a rapid pace.
Our first stop in Bali was the famous, or infamous, beach town of Kuta. Its long stretches of sandy beach, low prices and proximity to Australia have made it very attractive to the Aussie holidaymaker looking for a lively, cheap getaway.
Traveling in Indonesia is a bit challenging, as many local people just looking to earn some money will do just about anything to get you to spend money, figuring that you don’t know what it should cost. We mistrusted some information given to us about getting from Java to Bali and instead of purchasing a package tourist ticket for a ferry and bus, we decided to take the ferry and find our own way to Kuta by bus somehow. When we stepped off the ferry, we walked to the local bus terminal and had a hard time negotiating a decent price for a bus to Kuta. Little did we know we had paid $5 each for a 4 hour ride on an old local bus. No air conditioning and very tight seats. Erik could barely fit in a seat so we wound up sitting apart. We had to pile all of our bags and backpacks in one tiny seat with the rest laying on our laps. Nice and hot and sweaty. Lesson learned. Sometimes the extra few bucks for the tourist transport is money well spent.
Our hotel, the Secret Garden Inn, with our own bathroom, free WiFi, a huge swimming pool, TV and air conditioning, was right in the heart of town, within walking distance to restaurants, shops and the beach, and made for a very comfortable stay.
Sampling our favorite Indonesian fare was so simple as many eateries cooked up some mean mie goreng ayam (stir fried noodles with chicken) and chicken satay with peanut sauce, all for just a couple of bucks.
By day, we were relaxing on the sandy beaches or lounging by the pool. Our nights were spent sipping a cool beverage on the beach soaking up gorgeous sunsets. Bali life was nice. Although, our guards were up a bit as we were reminded of the tragic Bali bombings that happened in October 2002. Tourist bars were targeted and over 200 people were killed in carefully planned bombings and the resulting fires. A beautiful memorial sits in the main nightlife zone as a constant reminder of the many innocent people whose lives were cut short just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
From there, we moved on to Ubud, the part of Bali where “Eat, Pray, Love” was filmed. This touristy town is full of traditional Bali culture, with dance shows, concerts and kecak fire shows presented in multiple spots every night of the week.
We loved the kecak fire show, where a old legendary story is reenacted and a huge group of more than 40 men chant building up to the finale as the horseman dances on fire with bare feet.
Many of the homes are very intricate and beautiful with a central square, gardens, a temple and authentic Balinese fabrics and sculptures. Each day, the Hindu people make offerings of rice and light incense and leave the offerings in special places in their home or at the entry of their business. We even found little offerings placed outside of our door each morning.
The iconic images of Bali’s lush rice fields greeted us on nearly every corner. We were lucky enough to stay right alongside a rice field and had a gorgeous view to accompany us as we ate our complementary banana pancake breakfast on the balcony each morning.
We visited a few more temples and sights inland before finally making our way to the port of Padang Bai, ready to hop to our next island in the Indonesian archipelago.